Movies for the Blind
By Bruce Freeman
Jim Stovall, president of Narrative Television Network believes that people have only one right, and that’s to choose which direction to go. Only when we accept responsibility for where we are, can we move forward. He believes you can change your life when you change your mind. Stovall is the kind of person you should hear because he lives what he says.
At 17, during a routine physical for high school football eligibility, Stovall was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease that left him completely blind by the age of 29. What he has accomplished since then will astound you.
Notwithstanding his sight problems, Stovall went off to college. During his second year at Oral Roberts University, his sight became so poor he needed people to read to him and one became the love of his life, Crystal, now his wife of 25 years. Although his football dreams were gone, he wasn’t ready to give up athletics so he started weightlifting, becoming the national amateur champion for 1978 and 1979. He was in training for the 1980 Olympics when he got the news that the U.S. was boycotting the Olympics because of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Despite his disappointment, he persevered, graduating from Oral Roberts with simultaneous bachelors degrees in psychology and sociology in 1981.
As a college graduate, Stovall tried to find a job, but legally blind already most recruiters wouldn’t consider hiring him. Instead he started his own business as an investment broker on the NY Stock Exchange. Cold-calling by phone, many clients didn’t realize he was disabled and he set up his office so that it wasn’t obvious. However, by 1988 when he became totally blind, he could hide it no longer, so he “retired” to a little room in the back of his house to consider his options.
It was while listening to The Big Sleep, an old movie in his collection that he realized he had lost track of what was happening. He heard someone scream and it was very frustrating not to know what was going on – what others were seeing, but he was not. How could he make it so that he, and other blind people, could understand what was happening on a screen? Suddenly, it hit him – the silent, visual elements of a scene could be narrated on a different track, much in the same way foreign languages are added to both video tape and movies. It was at a support group that he met the late Kathy Harper, also legally blind, and both dipped into their savings to start Narrative Television Network.
Research showed there were 13 million blind and visually impaired people in US; certainly a big enough market to generate demand. By going to a local library in Tulsa, Stovall and Harper researched the ownership of shows, wrote hundreds of letters explaining the concept, and finally received responses from four owners and distributors of TV shows. Starting with an episode of Matlock, they began producing TV shows on video with the extra sound track, writing the scripts themselves with Stovall doing the voiceover.
After the company struggled for two years, Stovall realized he needed advertising sponsors to help defray costs. Then, demand began to outstrip the company’s ability to produce video tapes and it became clear that making the narrated shows available on television was the answer. In 1990, he made a deal with Nostalgia Television to air two hour blocks, which became the springboard for Narrative TV’s big break, a deal with network TV utilizing the Second Audio Program (SAP) channel.
Today, NTN produces over 1,000 hours of TV a year and employs a full time staff of 6, plus contracted writers, but Stovall’s eventual goal is to make every show on every network available. In addition Narrative TV.com services several million people world-wide through streaming technology with Yahoo!, making 50 movies available to the blind all the time.
Professor Bruce’s Words of Wisdom
Jim Stovall is a successful entrepreneur, a speaker, a weekly columnist, and an author of 12 books, including “The Ultimate Gift” a million-copy seller about life and success which is being made into a movie, who is also blind. What his experience teaches us is that thinking positively and seeing problems as opportunities can take you a long way, no matter what obstacles lay in your path.
See problems as solutions waiting to happen, keeping a positive attitude especially in the face of adversity.
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